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Choosing the Right String

The right string can make a difference. Depending on your instrument and the style you’re playing you can play around with the choice of strings to modify your instrument’s sound and feel. In general you want to choose a thinner string for a thinner neck and vice versa.

The Three Strings

There’s three different strings on the shamisen: thee think string ichi no Ito, the middle string ni no ito and the skinny string san no ito. Those names translate to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd string.

Cracking the Code

When purchasing a new string, you’ll notice that every string has a numeral code consisting of two numbers connected by a dash. The first number indicates the thread count. The second number indicates the string number (see above).

Thread Count

Each string comes in different thread counts. The higher the number the thicker the string. 14-3 for example is a pretty thick skinny string (san no ito).

String Gauge Guide

Depending on the style you’re playing, certain string gauge combinations are “common”. They reflect the predominate ideal sound aesthetic established in the different styles. Keep in mind that standards are not set in stone and that you can take the liberty to set your own preference in playing comfort and sound.

Style ichi no ito ni no ito san no ito
Nagauta 15-1 13-2 13-3
Kouta 17-1 15-2 13-3
Jiuta 15-1 14-2 14-3
Minyo 17-1 14-2 13-3
Tsugaru 25-1 15-2 13-3

A Matter of Style? Silk vs. Synthetic

Traditionally, shamisen strings are made of silk. The most authentic sound, if you want to call it that, will be achieved with silk strings.

Silk strings provide a warm tone, which is especially pleasant when playing in traditional ensembles with Shakuhachi and Koto.

The downside of silk strings is the shorter lifespan compared to synthetic strings. Players will often practice with nylon or tetron strings and string their instrument with silk strings for a performance. But there’s nothing wrong with using silk strings for practice, too, because you, the player, will always treasure the subtle differences in your instrument’s sound the most.

Check out this interesting article on the art of silk string making.

Synthetic strings for shamisen have a full tone and are ideal for practice and play due to the material’s durability. Compared to silk strings, the tone is more crisp and the feel can be a bit tighter on your fingers. Try both materials to compare the unique qualities of the traditional silk strings and the modern and more durable synthetic option.

The strings come in different weights/thread thicknesses. The bigger the number the thicker the string. What kind of string is best for you depends on the size of your instrument, your style of playing, the kind of songs you’re playing and, last but not least, personal preference for tone and feel.

As a rule of thumb, you want to user thinner strings for thinner necks (hosozao) and thicker strings for thicker necks (futozao).

Attaching strings to the neo

Brands with Tradition

The strings you can purchase at Shami-Shop are manufactured by the most important traditional string makers in Japan. All strings are of excellent quality and are the brands are trusted by professional performers, teachers, and students alike.